The Wilma Theater: An Interview with Annie Baker

December 29, 2011

This content is sourced from The Wilma Theater.

An interview with resident playwright Annie Baker from The Wilma Theater as they prepare to open a production of her play Body Awareness on January 4, 2012.

Walter Bilderback: My experience encountering each of your plays for the first time is that nothing much is happening to relatively ordinary people, and then sometime near the end I find myself thinking “Holy Cow! Something huge has happened without me noticing it.” You’ve said that dialogue and pace are overly-stressed in a lot of new plays. Can you talk a little about this?

Annie Baker: Oh good. That’s a huge compliment, Walter. Thank you. Yes, I feel like a lot of contemporary plays are trying to compete with film and TV, which is always a terrible idea. If you try to play their game, film and TV will beat you every time. The plays I’m talking about are fast-paced, “realistic,” take place in a zillion different locations, and have a lot of big sitcom-y laughs. I think Body Awareness is representative of my transition out of that kind of writing and into something else. I do think it has some film and TV residue on it, but it’s trying to shake it off.

WB: One of your current projects is an adaptation of Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov. His work shares many qualities with yours: do you feel a kinship with him?

AB: Well, I love his writing. I don’t know if I deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as him, though. He taught me a lot about offstage action, offstage characters, and how important it is to have dialogue that does not appear to forward the plot. His characters are spontaneous and strange and do things we wouldn’t expect them to do and yet they also never really change.

WB: How is adapting a play different for you than writing a new one? Do you think this will have any impact on your future work?

AB: It’s totally, totally different. It’s like the difference between, uh, swimming laps and cooking meat on a grill. I have no idea why those examples leapt into my mind but there you go. Adapting Uncle Vanya felt like an intellectual investigation, a puzzle, a philosophical inquiry. Writing a new play—when it’s going well—feels like meditating, dancing, sleep-walking.

WB: What other writers do you admire?

AB: Oh, so many. Novelists have influenced my plays just as much as other playwrights. Nabokov, Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Thomas Bernhard, Iris Murdoch, Virginia Woolf. The playwright Mac Wellman was my mentor and he and his plays had a huge influence on me.

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